The remote (and very rugged) ‘Valley of Baboons’ unfolds along a narrow gorge blessed with pristine natural grandeur and boasting gnarly peaks, rushing rivers, winding gravel passes and high-altitude fields of fynbos. The ‘Kloof’ is just under 200km long and is encircled by the northern Baviaans ranges and the Kouga Mountains to the south.
The massive mega-reserve – one of the biggest World Heritage Sites in the world – lies at a lower altitude than the Karoo further north. The high mountains intensify the rainfall from the arid interior, generating increased precipitation in the Baviaanskloof, contributing to the lush landscape supporting the diverse fauna and flora here.
All you really want to know is that the views across the bars are going to leave you with renewed stoke around every corner, with dramatic geological features spiking the horizon line. This does mean that you’re going to have to deal with some major climbs along the way. But as the local Klowenaars say: “Wie’s bang”!?
Best Time of Year:
March is a really good time to visit. Daytime temperatures are not as hot as in January and February and rainfall is usually low. It is spectacular for most of the year, though, but roads can be damaged during the rainy season and it does get pretty bitter in mid-winter.
The mountain biking route – scaped by the Cedar Falls land owners – is a relatively new addition to the adventure offerings in the area. This farm is also the spiritual home of the Leopard Trail, arguably one of South Africa’s most magnificent hiking trails. Hikers from around the country travel here to tramp onto this three-day slack-packing route, making it one of the country’s most successful conservation success stories in years.
In fact, the Gabriel’s Loop Trail pretty much follows the Leopard Trail, starting near the homestead before cranking into the adjacent wilderness. The MTB trail basically follows two upgraded sections of the hiking route, connecting the first part of Day 1 to the second half of Day 2.
Strong riders will find they can ride most of the route, but the gritty ascents will be a challenge for many. The scenery over-the-bars is magnificent, though, especially if you take time to turn off the route to explore the eponymous ‘Gabriel’s Pools’, set within a magnificent and very narrow shady kloof amidst near-vertical cliffs. In the rainy season, the kloof boasts a cascading waterfall and a refreshing stream tumbling amidst the giant boulders.
Be warned: you will be cranking off into a mega-monster climb, so don’t feel despondent if you need to get off and push. So saddle up and crank into the steep climb towards the grassland plateau and keep a sharp eye for the Cedar Falls horses, often seen grazing where the trail levels out after 1.5km.
Relax into your ride, as the trail levels out here, making for an absolute dream of a ride along smooth and meandering singletrack traversing the valley floor. Just on 3km into your crank, you will see the signage indicating the turn-off into the canyon, where Gabriel’s Pools await. This is an absolute must-do, so leave your bike (it is 100% safe!) and explore the kloof on foot before returning to the trail to pedal over the ridge where you re-join the return route (5.5km).
Another tough uphill (approximately 3km of hard graft, but with a river crossing or two thrown in just to make sur it does not become a buzz-kill awaits, but as we all know, everything that goes up must eventually come down!
And when it does, it’s a whoop-fest of fast-flowing downhill all the way back to base camp, Bru. Here’s a heads-up, though: the terrain is gnarly, with serrated rock, loose shale sediment, occasional pissed-off viper types, and big drop-offs lurking into the kloofs. It’s up to up to keep your shit together …
The Leopard Trail is a hiking trail, so it’s a privilege to crank onto this route. Bear in mind the path is consistently used by trail runners and hikers, so make a point of being cautious and courteous. You’re miles away from anywhere, remember and you may need these guys to get you medical assistance if things do go wrong.
One more thing: there’s a 4km flow-track with interesting berms and a full-on hand-made feel slip-sliding into the valley below Red Cliffs Farmhouse. This is a jol of note, so go balls to the wall. And if you’re keen for some off-the-bike endorphins, the kloofing session to the waterfall is an absolute must … wetsuits are optional!